Posted By Janice May 24, 2012
When I worked on Capitol Hill five years ago, BlackBerries were clunky, members’ websites were difficult to navigate, and no one used social media. In fact, I believe Facebook was still private and you had to be invited to Gmail. Man, that seems like eons ago. Today, Congressional offices have embraced the changing tides and have learned that social media is a great approach that offers a completely different conversation with constituents.
In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Sen. Chuck Grassley said “I use Twitter to keep in touch with Iowans. It’s a way to describe what I’m working on as their U.S. senator, to make a point in a public policy debate and to try to foster greater citizen participation in the process of representative government.”
Well said, senator. Grassley was actually one of the first senators to adopt Twitter and many others have followed suit. Both the Senate and House Ag Committees have their own accounts (@SenateAg and @HouseAgNews). Additionally, a large majority of individual members of the committees have their own accounts.
So can this actually make a difference? The answer is yes, it can. A great example would be the Twitter campaign surrounding the proposed child labor laws for farm kids. There was such a media storm on Twitter that it actually helped with the Department of Labor’s decision to withdraw the proposal. And now, with farm bill votes in the House and Senate right around the corner, we have another opportunity to take the Hill by storm….well, a Tweet storm.
Of the 535 members of Congress, 460 of them have individual Twitter accounts (If you follow me on Twitter, you already know this) and many of them have a staffer whose job it is to monitor their social media sites. Use this to your advantage. Find your representatives and senators, follow them and check in on what is happening in their office. Trust me, it’s a lot easier for a member to send a tweet with an announcement than it is to write a release and get it sent out. And don’t be afraid to tweet your member on an important issue. You may be making an impact in 140 characters without even knowing it.
Oh, and while you’re at it, I love new followers as well. I’m @DCcorngal.
Posted By Cindy May 22, 2012
Researchers at the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center (NCERC) may have found the kernel’s secret recipe for making cellulosic ethanol, recently announcing the successful production of ethanol from the cellulosic portion of the corn kernel.
“This research is demonstrated proof of the viability of ‘generation 2.0 ethanol,’” NCERC Director John Caupert said. “By utilizing existing technologies readily available in the commercial marketplace, the Center was able to produce a biofuel that builds upon the strengths of conventional corn ethanol and the promise of cellulosic ethanol, thus making bolt-on cellulosic ethanol a reality.”
Caupert added that the potential for cellulosic ethanol has significant immediate and long-term impacts on the biofuels industry generally and the ethanol industry specifically. “Any of the 211 existing ethanol plants in the United States could be retrofitted with existing bolt-on technologies to produce cellulosic ethanol from corn without the need to build new facilities,” Caupert said. “This translates into opportunities for jobs and economic development, particularly in rural areas.”
On average, 8 to 9.5% of the corn kernel is fiber, of which about 5% is in the pericarp. NCERC Assistant Director of Biological Research Sabrina Trupia will be presenting more information about the new development at the Fuel Ethanol Workshop June 4-7 in Minneapolis.
The NCERC at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville is a nationally-recognized research center established through federal and state initiatives, with support from the Illinois and National Corn Growers associations, and dedicated to the development and commercialization of biofuels, specialty chemicals, and other renewable compounds.
Posted By Cathryn May 21, 2012
“You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
Watching CommonGround Colorado volunteers Danell Kalcevic and Cindy Frasier during a live television interview broadcast on Denver’s News9 last week, I remembered this metaphor, which the nuns who ran the high school I attended often used during my tenure.
These two women, facing the cameras for the first time, met remarks which may have ruffled other’s feathers with calm, patient, open understanding. In return, they gained the trust and respect of the station staff and, most probably, many viewers as well.
Adding a bit of sweetness to their already pleasant personalities, they brought cookies. Meat cookies to be exact. So, immediately, they drew interest that, when coupled with the way in which they told their story, helped start a real conversation about food rather than a battle.
The lesson applies to everyone who dedicates time and effort to helping further the public discourse on farming. Had Danell or Cindy become combative or defensive, the conversation would have stopped. If we allow ourselves to put up that wall, it shuts out the people who most need to hear the real story of today’s family farmer.
Agvocates need to cultivate their interactions with the same care given to their land. Imagine how it feels to have someone bluntly call a statement wrong. Now, imagine a smiling face offering their perspective from what they have seen. Which agvocate would more likely build a real, productive conversation?
Take a moment to evaluate how implication, tone and non-verbal cues affect a conversation. Bring honey with you to agvocacy instead of vinegar.
Notably, it never hurts to bring a plate of Beef Cookie Recipe too.
Posted By Cindy May 18, 2012
The Iowa State University professor who co-authored a new study on ethanol and gasoline prices released this week calls ethanol a “magic bullet.”
“Imagine if the refineries found a magic bullet that could squeeze ten percent more gasoline out of a barrel of crude oil,” says Professors Dermot Hayes. “We have found a magic bullet, and that is we produce an amount of ethanol equal to about ten percent of the gasoline that we consume.”
That is one reason that Hayes, with lead author Xiaodong Du of the University of Wisconsin, found in an updated study released by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) this week that the growing use of American ethanol reduced wholesale gasoline prices by an average of $1.09 per gallon in 2011, up from an average impact of $0.89 per gallon in 2010. The study also found the between 2000 and 2011, gasoline prices have been reduced by an average of $0.29 per gallon, thanks to ethanol.
“Those numbers are large,” said Professor Hayes during a conference call on Tuesday during which he explained his hypotheses for the big impact of ethanol. “Think about the world before ethanol occurred. Every time a gasoline refinery would shut down, the price of gasoline would go up 10-20 cents because the U.S. was at its refinery capacity. What ethanol has done is increased refinery capacity.”
The savings are even more significant in the Midwest, where the study found pump prices would actually be $1.69 more per gallon without ethanol.
Listen to Hayes’ explanation of the study here: ISU Professor Dermot Hayes
Posted By Mark May 17, 2012
Farmers are always getting asked these days to get involved; write a letter, call your Congressman, but how about eat a pizza? Now activation by the slice is something I think we can sink our teeth into and all wrap our minds around.
With many corporate players caving in to environmental whackos and misinformed consumer groups it is refreshing to see a major player in the restaurant industry like Dominos Pizza tell The Humane Society of the United States to “hold that thought” when they asked them to require pork suppliers to stop housing sows in gestation stalls.
When HSUS asked stockholders to bow down before their warm fuzzy image and the millions in lobbying and PR dollars they wield, Dominos shareholders rejected the resolution. A Domino’s spokesperson explained that the company relies on animal experts to determine the best way to raise an animal that’s used for food.
Ok, now it is time for full disclosure on my personal bias. Unlike HSUS – that hides behind their false image as the savior of puppies and kitties, while giving a pittance to actual animal shelters. When I was in college I have to admit to having a real gastronomic romance with Domino’s Pizza. The food was inexpensive which is critical to a student on a budget and they delivered faster than any other food establishment. Also, an important factor for those who get a random hunger for pizza late at night.
I still have that pizza problem today…love it, eat it weekly and still a fan of Dominos. I can openly live with this “pizza problem.”
One has to wonder how HSUS employees sleep at night knowing full well that they are spending their vast resources to drive a vegetarian agenda and hides a lifestyle choice as a moral cause. And they do so while constantly misrepresenting themselves to the general public.
Thankfully many people are taking note of the online “Farmers Paying It Forward with Pizza” campaign that was the brainchild of Clarence, Missouri pork producer and Ag blogger Chris Chinn.
The Brownfield Network became the most recent public entity to take note of Dominos act of corporate heroism. A logical decision really, but heroic none-the-less given the lack of spine and sense of right that seems to have invaded much of corporate America.
So, thanks to Chris, Brownfield and many others for bringing this into the light of day and challenging us all to show support of Dominos. And for the record I like my activism with parmesan sprinkled on top.
Posted By Janice May 15, 2012
If soil could talk, what do you think it would say about life 150 years ago when the Department of Agriculture was created? I often wonder that about the farm I grew up on in Illinois when I look at the picture of the family that built our house over a century ago, see the latest arrowhead my brother has found or hear of one of our tractors getting stuck yet again in the old buffalo wallows.
Imagine what life was like when President Lincoln signed the act of Congress establishing the USDA. The Civil War had begun just a year prior, the Homestead Act would be signed on May 20 and nearly half of Americans lived on farms. Pioneers relied on mule drawn plows to break up the tough prairie sod and were excited to grow a big enough crop to feed their families for the winter. I wonder what they would think of the sophisticated tractors and GPS tracking we used to plant this year’s crop.
I hope that people will take five minutes, yes five whole minutes, out of their day to sit and ponder what kind of impact this department has had on our society. I don’t think the average person realizes the scope of the USDA’s work from forestry to food processing. But as the future changes, so will agriculture and the needs of an expanding world. Our farmers will still be expected to meet the growing demands of food, feed, fuel and fiber and they will go above and beyond with the help of The People’s Department.
Over the past 150 years, the USDA has grown with innovation and technology in agriculture. It has created exciting new ideas about food technology and research. And it has evolved to ensure it still remains true to President Lincoln’s vision; to touch the life of every American, every day.
Posted By Cathryn May 11, 2012
This Sunday, children, grandchildren, parents, families and so many permutations thereof will pay honor to the mothers in their lives. While the flowers, brunches and new perfumes will be accepted graciously, and even a few will summon emotional tears, for one CommonGround volunteer, Mother’s Day came early this year.
Today, Kaydee Caldwell submitted a letter expressing her admiration for her mom, Dawn Caldwell, and the work that she does to the CommonGround website. Just in time for Mother’s Day, it now features that letter, expressing a sentiment with which many farmers’ daughters and sons can relate.
Farm children across the country come back to their homes after college or military service every day. Many of those who do not return continue to support the family farm through their work in agribusiness. The ties to their background run deep, in large part, because of their deep, sincere admiration for their parents and the hard work they do.
Kaydee, along with the children of other moms and dads who place themselves at the forefront of the national conversation about farming, has a unique reason to feel so proud of and inspired by her mother. Expressing the reason for her admiration, she explains, “she is doing what she thinks is right, and she is making a huge difference .”
Surely, this is a sentiment mothers almost universally, even if only subconsciously, long to hear from their sons and daughters. It takes courage to act based upon your principles rather than cave into the temptation to remain on the sidelines and deem it someone else’s fight. It takes incredible energy and perseverance to make a difference, especially one a teenage daughter publicly commends.
Maybe there are two huge messages to take away from this one, simple act this Mother’s Day.
- Acting as an advocate for what one believes, in a sincere, passionate, principled way, always has a positive effect. Whether it changes public policy or inspires one’s own child, the time and energy put forward comes back in the end.
- This Sunday, take a moment to speak kindly to someone who has inspired you, whether it is your mom, a kindly neighbor or someone who acted as a mother to you. Letting someone know that they have inspired you can travel like ripples in a pond, spreading that positive message as it goes.
Posted By Cathryn May 11, 2012
Oprah Winfrey’s daytime diatribes may not run on network television any longer, but she continues to damage public perception of agriculture with little regard for the scientific evidence against her claims.
Oprah’s power as a media mogul has not diminished since her self-titled program ran its final episode. Instead, her legions of followers now flock to her magazine, website, cable channel and the programs of her protégés, actively seeking out her wisdom on subjects ranging from the best fiction to nutrition advice.
Sadly, sometimes the references she points to on food issues contain enough fallacies that a particularly witty librarian might file them in the fiction section. With an entire section of her website dedicated to Michael Pollan’s “Food 101,” she lends the halo-effect of her considerable influence to works which have many unfounded statements and some which have been disproven by a variety of reputable sources.
Now, Tim Burrack, an Iowa farmer who actively participates in the advancement of his industry through service to the National Corn Growers Association and several other ag-focused groups, has issued a challenge in the form of an invitation. In a letter published on the Truth about Trade and Biotechnology’s website, Burrack invites Winfrey to visit his farm for “a firsthand look at how an Iowa farmer produces healthy food in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.”
Burrack felt the need to act after reading an article in the May issue of O: The Oprah Magazine that asserts no one actually knows the real effect of crops produced using biotechnology. Understanding the impact Oprah’s statements have upon her vast legions of followers, he issued the offer to help better inform the media maven and, in doing so, help provide a deeper, more informed understanding of modern agriculture to someone who wields almost unmatched influence on the American public.
Like Burrack, farmers and their allies know all too well how even a simple uninformed statement can harm public understanding of agriculture for years to come. Given the influence of the source in this case, it is crucial that America’s farmers stand up for the incredible work that they do and products they provide.
Take a stand for farmers and for truth today. Click here to post a comment to the original article calling on Oprah to take Burrack up on his invitation. Then, wield some social media influence by sharing the letter through Twitter or Facebook.
Together, the people who grow food for our country can take on those who would insult or mischaracterize their work while enjoying the variety of safe, affordable choices they produce. Burrack took a stand for what he knows is right. Now, let Oprah know just how many of America’s farmer families and their friends stand behind him.
Posted By Cindy May 10, 2012
The first U.S. Department of Agriculture outlook for this year’s corn crop is calling for record yields and record production.
The May 10 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report projects U.S. feed grain supplies for 2012/13 at a record 416.3 million tons, up 16 percent from 2011/12 at a record 416.3 million tons, with corn production called at a record 14.8 billion bushels, up 2.4 billion from 2011/12.
A projected 5.1-million acre increase in harvested area and higher expected yields, compared with 2011/12, sharply boost production prospects. The 2012/13 corn yield is projected at a record 166.0 bushels per acre, 2.0 bushels above the 1990-2010 trend reflecting the rapid pace of planting and emergence. Despite the lowest expected carry-in in 16 years, corn supplies for 2012/13 are projected at a record 15.7 billion bushels, up 2.2 billion from 2011/12. Total U.S. corn use for 2012/13 is projected up 9 percent from 2011/12 on higher feed and residual disappearance, increased use for sweeteners and starch, and larger exports.
Under the corn usage category, USDA is increasing feed and residual use by 900 million bushels based on a sharp rebound in residual disappearance with the record crop and an increase in feeding with lower corn prices and higher expected pork and poultry production and exports are projected to be 200 million bushels higher than last year on abundant domestic supplies, lower prices, and higher expected China demand. Projected corn use for ethanol is unchanged at five billion bushels on the year as weak gasoline consumption limits domestic blending opportunities.
Of course, the downside to bigger supplies is lower prices. USDA is projecting at this point that the season-average farm price this year will be somewhere around $4.20 to $5.00 per bushel, down sharply from the 2011/12 record projected at $5.95 to $6.25 per bushel but still much better than it used to be.
Posted By Cathryn May 9, 2012
In coverage of the recent “occupation” of agricultural research land at the University of California- Berkley, one essential point was striking in its absence. While a public university, the land these so-called activists forcibly took over is, in fact, private property. Their actions in doing so showed complete disregard for the principles upon which our nation was founded, for the well-being of the institution’s students and for the rapidly growing world population whose food security depends upon the products of agricultural research.
Clinging to worn-out rhetoric shrouded in a mindless, trendy façade, these protesters stand against a fundamental principle upon which the nation is based. The ownership of private property has been held as a fundamental value of American society since the revolution. The nation’s forefathers enshrined it in the Constitution, and, in doing so, created a country to which many have fled in order to gain this protection. Placing their judgment above that of the university governing board, state government and of the people which those legislators represent, this fringe group forcibly chose to repurpose land to suit its own agenda.
What did the people who support this university lose?
They lost a valuable asset that provided the university with an outdoor laboratory. Agricultural research often culminates in necessary field trials that allow scientists to test how new varieties or products will react in circumstances similar to those in which they may ultimately grow. This land was not a common area without a stated purpose. These protestors stole a valuable resource.
They lost the valuable time. Right now, the future food security of the world depends upon agricultural research. In next 40 years, farmers will need to produce more food than was produced in the last 10,000 years combined to ensure the food supply keeps up with population growth. In light of this challenge, taking fields used for research into the products which will make this possible is tantamount to taking food from the mouths of those who will need it within our lifetime.
Actions have real consequences. The “Occupy the Farm” movement has shown how disregard for the basic ground rules governing our society, no matter how supposedly well-intentioned, results in real harm. Their lack of foresight and careful scrutiny of the possibly consequences of their actions shows the irresponsibility inherent in policies they espouse.